There are many parts of military life that I can’t escape despite my status as an ex-military wife. And while I may have over a decade of military life experience under my belt, my status change has greatly altered how those parts affect me.
Simple things, like taking the kids to the clinic on base last week for their summer camp physicals, now feel foreign to me. I had to explain that the sponsor was no longer my husband, that the kids no longer lived with him, that my last name was no longer the same as theirs. I had to say no to my son when he asked if we could swing by the Exchange and explain that I can’t shop there. I didn’t feel like I belonged on base, and I was relieved to drive through the exit gates after the appointment and return to my civilian world.
But going on base for my kids’ appointment is ultimately pretty insignificant when there are much bigger military life norms to deal with. Like a PCS move.
My ex-husband is PCS’ing in June. To Hawaii. For three years.
(To give you a frame of reference, we currently live in Virginia.)
When I first learned about his orders, I didn’t really believe him. After all, we had just gotten divorced. Why in the world would he accept orders so far away from his children so soon after such a huge transition for them? I had my theories as to why he would tell me he was moving to Hawaii, but those theories ended with him saying, “Just kidding. I’m staying here. I couldn’t do that to the kids.”
Turns out, he wasn’t kidding. He did accept orders to Hawaii. As his ex-wife, I have no right to contribute my input regarding his career trajectory, so I didn’t. Instead, I’ve started bracing myself for the consequences of his decision.
For the next three years, I will essentially have full custody of our kids, despite our legal shared custody. (I won’t go into the financial aspect of this change, but that’s a huge issue as well.) If and when he returns to this geographic vicinity, our daughter will be closing in on her 10th birthday and our son will be 13.
There’s no clear plan about when the kids will see their father in the next three years. He wants to take them every summer, but I don’t see how his travel schedule will possibly allow him to supervise them for eight straight weeks. As far as holidays, they’re already divided in the divorce decree, but I’m predicting major changes to that schedule. For instance, Thanksgiving is too short of a break to send the kids to Hawaii. Is he really going to fly back here? Plus, he hasn’t even left yet, and he’s already passing holidays off to me. (He was supposed to have Easter yesterday, but gave it to me because of his “schedule.”)
And then there’s the basic issue of travel. How are the kids going to get to Hawaii? They’re too young to make that flight alone. Is he going to fly back to get them? Will his parents take them? And who is paying for plane tickets that are the farthest thing from inexpensive?
But my most immediate concern is how my children are dealing with the prospect of being so far away from their father for such an extended period of time. Even though I feel it’s my ex’s responsibility to provide the proper explanations to the children about his move, I’m often the one left to spell things out and prepare them for the realities of what’s about to happen. While he’s gushing about “the most beautiful beaches in the world” and giving them vague promises of when they’ll visit him, I find myself being the bad guy as I explain to my daughter that her father’s move to Hawaii means she won’t be spending weekends with him anymore.
I often feel ill-equipped to answer some of the kids’ questions because I don’t have any answers myself. I’m thankful for the wonderful “talking doctors” the kids see on a regular basis. The kids actually enjoy going to their therapy sessions, and I’m relieved to have professionals helping to both prepare the kids for their father leaving and to talk it through after he’s gone.
So what does this PCS move mean to me outside of how it affects my children?
It means I’m going to be a full-time single mother. Yes, I’m a single mom now, but I get time to myself when the kids are with their father most weekends. I can socialize, meet up on Sunday mornings with the awesome running club I joined, and generally recharge before another work/school week. All of that is about to change. Any personal time for me will soon require advanced planning, a babysitter, and probably mommy guilt.
It also means there’s a possibility I won’t see my ex more than a handful of times, if at all, in the next three years. No more Saturday and Monday meetings to exchange the kids, the dog, and their belongings. No more tension-filled face-to-face conversations. No more formulating back-up plans because of his last-minute schedule changes. No more unnecessary drama.
And that’s why I’m looking forward to the day he leaves.